My colorectal cancer diagnosis caught me by surprise
My journey with colorectal cancer began suddenly and unexpectedly. One day I was feeling OK and the next, after a painful night, I found myself in surgery. I’d begun throwing up in the middle of the night and had a painful stomachache and diarrhea. Nothing seemed to help, so we rushed to a nearby ER.
Scans showed that something was wrong, but it wasn’t clear what. The doctors quickly admitted me to a nearby hospital and recommended immediate surgery. During surgery, the doctors found a tumor in my ascending colon so this section was removed, along with the tumor. A few days later, I was told that I had stage IIA colorectal cancer and that I should begin chemotherapy soon.
Looking back, I remembered a few times before that I’d suddenly lost weight and been ill, but I chalked it up to travelling or eating a bad meal. I wish that I’d paid more attention then.
I’ve always tried to do well by my body, so my colorectal cancer diagnosis was pretty shocking. I was just 36 years old, and I exercised regularly, took my dog on long walks and maintained a healthy diet.
My diagnosis was made even harder by the fact that my grandma, who had lived with my family since I was born, had passed away that same week. It took me some time to digest everything and think about my next steps.
Choosing MD Anderson for my colorectal cancer treatment
We originally visited another local oncologist, but something didn’t quite feel right. I felt rushed into chemotherapy, but I wanted to better understand my options first. Thankfully, my husband helped me research, and we soon scheduled an appointment with Dr. Michael Overman and his team at MD Anderson.
Dr. Overman and his team gave us a great sense of security. They were extremely professional. I felt confident that they were the experts and that they knew exactly what I needed. Knowing we were in the best possible hands took some of the stress out of the equation. From that point, they were in charge, and I just needed to follow their instructions.
Dr. Overman’s team was extremely patient and educated me during the entire process. I brought a long list of questions to each of our appointments, and no matter what my question was, they answered it and followed up with me.
Under Dr. Overman’s care, I had 12 rounds of chemotherapy through an IV over six months. I was often tired and weak from my treatments, but fortunately my employer was willing to work with me during this time so that I could keep working.
Counting my blessings
My friends and family told me that I remained pretty positive during the whole process. While I would like to take credit, I received so much love and support from my family, friends and work and I would not have had the same journey without them.
I couldn’t have been more spoiled during that time. My husband never missed a chemotherapy session, even if he was busy with his job. He stayed right by my side, taking calls and working on his computer. My parents, brother, mother-in-law, and close friends took turns staying with my husband and me once we returned home. I even had family travel from Colombia to take care of me. Some close friends came to visit during the weekends or fly to meet me.
I think, in the middle of everything, cancer showed me just how blessed I am.
With all of this support and love, it’s difficult to not be positive. Of course, some days were harder than others. I still remember how weak I sometimes felt and how uncomfortable it was to wear a pump after chemo.
Still, I won’t complain. Despite the sudden bad news, I got a second chance, thanks to my family, my friends and my team at MD Anderson.
Paula will be honored at the 14th annual SCOPE 5K run, which will be held at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The event promotes colorectal cancer screening and honors those diagnosed with the disease.